I started this post a little bit ago, when Split Image was first published. Please take the time to go read it and watch the corresponding video, if you can. After some responses from Pavement Runner and Sharp Endurance, I felt the need to keep moving with it and finish it, even if just for myself. Thanks for letting me share.
I’m going to by no means do this story justice, as ESPN did an incredible job on such a difficult topic. Split Image is about 19-year-old Madison Holleran, a track and cross country runner at the University of Pennsylvania. As a freshman, she greatly struggled with her mental health. Much of the article talks about the life she portrayed on social media, a happy and successful college freshmen’s life and how truly, every one presents a sort of alter-ego via smart phones and computer screens.
Everyone presents an edited version of life on social media. People share moments that reflect an ideal life, an ideal self. Hundreds of years ago, we sent letters by horseback, containing only what we wanted the recipient to read. Fifty years ago, we spoke via the telephone, sharing only the details that constructed the self we wanted reflected.With Instagram, one thing has changed: the amount we consume of one another's edited lives. Young women growing up on Instagram are spending a significant chunk of each day absorbing others' filtered images while they walk through their own realities, unfiltered. In a recent survey conducted by the Girl Scouts, nearly 74 percent of girls agreed that other girls tried to make themselves look "cooler than they are" on social networking sites.
How many times have you re-taken that selfie, messed with every filter Instagram has to offer, just to ensure it looks ‘right’? I’m guilty. Used the right filter to fix the onslaught of break outs across your chin? Definitely guilty. When did it become not okay to show that your living room might always be a mess, that your kids’ hair is full of mashed potatoes, and that the run you just finished wasn’t the run you had hoped for?
I think the story resonated with me even more, considering my career in higher education. After running a residence hall of 420+ freshmen for three years, I’d counted too many times that a student was transported or hospitalized for self-harm concerns, or how many times they’d come to me in tears, uncertain about the next steps in life or if college was where they really needed to be. It’s not news that freshmen greatly struggle with the new step, new transition into university life.
I was there, too. I hated my college, hated where I was – struggled with making friends that I thought I could rely on, struggled with my roommate, and was generally unhappy. A friend from home and I made a pact, that we could at least stick it out through the Christmas vacation. And if we could make it to there, we could probably make it to the end of at least our first years at our respective schools, and then we could reevaluate if needed. We both made it, and we both graduated from the schools we started at. But not without struggle. I remember coming back to Flagstaff from home after winter vacation with my family, and I was laying on my twin bed, staring off into nothing. A friend from down the hall came by to say hi since she had just gotten back, and without even saying a word, I just burst into tears. It was a reality of facing the struggles of first semester all over again.
It wasn’t until my senior year, and really even my last semester, that I went to the Counseling Services center on campus to talk about my general anxiety, stress, and general fear about my pending graduation and very much pending life. It took six months to actually make the appointment – I bailed on the first two, but finally went in February for the first time.
When did it become a bad thing to find the need to talk to someone? That it’s so taboo to admit to ourselves that we might struggle?
A week after she died, Madion’s family set up a Facebook page that is to celebrate her life and share her life, but also has become a sort of refuge for other folks to share their stories too. From Split Image, but also one of my favorites and one that probably resonates with me most:
I run because it's therapeutic for me. Because every time I run outside, around my home, I am reminded of the beauty of the world, of which I often forget. Yet at the same time, I am fully aware of beauty -- it simply saddens me because of reasons I have not yet conjured up. I suppose I am sad. But at the same time I am happy; and miserable; and joyful; and stressed out; and calm, and everything in between. I am everything. Every emotion, rigged in every format, and developed through every machine. I am numb but I am not.
I hope to use this as a way to admit that sometimes, I’m not okay. Not every run is perfect, and there are days I’m looking a hot mess and that it’s okay to shed a tear and not have on the cheesiest smile I can muster. It takes courage, certainly, but I think we owe it to ourselves and even to each other that we are allowed to not be okay.
It wasn’t until the fall that I really addressed my unemployment on social media. Those who needed to know, knew at that point, but for whatever reason, I didn't think the world needed to. I wasn't being honest with you, or myself.
Having been laid off in June, I just left motivational quotes and continued to post my (mostly) smiling self on run-cations and adventures to keep myself occupied. Inside, I was dying inside – my self-worth admittedly comes heavily from my work, and my career is certainly much of my identity. Who was I without a job title or something to put my heart and soul into every day? I recently had a conversation with someone about my new job and mentioned that I had “been so open about [my] unemployment.” I looked back and said, “Yes, but it took me five months to get to that point.” It was a sense of embarrassment, ashamed even, but why? It’s not like no one else has lost a job in recent years. I wish I had come clean in June, and been more open from the get-go because yes, behind my Instagram profile I was a wreck. I wasn't okay, but I wanted to show the world that I at least had a brave face to show for it.
Know that it’s okay to not be okay. Live a little, unfiltered.